By Daniel McConnell
The mishandling of emails within the Department of Justice which forced the resignation of former Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald last November was “ad hoc” and “unsatisfactory” but not deliberate, a new report has concluded.
The review into the handling of emails in May and July of 2015 about Garda whistleblower Maurice McCabe has been "noted" by the Cabinet.
Conducted by Michael Collins SC, the report found that there is no particular system in place in the Department to ensure that emails are filed appropriately.
“The principal issue of general concern identified in the Review relates to the lack of a clear system for the filing and storage of emails. There appears to be a general acceptance – both among current
and former officials at all grades and at ministerial level – that this is a problem which needs to be addressed,” Mr Collins found.
Department officials indicated that emails generally find their way to the appropriate Division and it is simply assumed within the higher ranks of the Department that personnel in the relevant Divisions will file emails when and where appropriate. “This appears unsatisfactory,” Mr Collins concluded.
The Collins report identified “certain shortcomings in the Department’s response to the Disclosures Tribunal’s initial call for potentially relevant information to be furnished for its consideration.
“However the Review has found no evidence to suggest any deliberate concealment or withholding of material from the Tribunal,” the report said.
It added that while there has been a degree of controversy concerning the Department’s failure to disclose the May and July 2015 emails prior to November 2017, “it does not appear that the failure to do so amounted to a breach of any order of the Tribunal.”
Mr Collins also found that an initial search for documents did not include the email accounts of officials in the Policing Division or senior officials in the Department or the Secretary General’s office.
No meaningful explanation has been provided for this omission, he said, other than that it did not apparently occur to officials within the Policing Division to search such email accounts, possibly because they did not
consider that the focus of the Tribunal’s investigations was on the Department.
In the wake of the controversy in November and following a request from Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, a fresh trawl of more than 30 million documents was carried out, and 79 relevant documents which had not been sent to tribunal emerged.
Mr Collins also found the search processes used to identify documents were somewhat ad hoc.
Responding to the report, Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan said he welcomed its findings.
“However, I am concerned that emails of potential relevance to the Tribunal’s considerations were not located as part of the Department’s discovery process. We have taken important lessons from this episode.”